Going backward with grief: Ethan update (also genetic results are back)

While Ethan has handled the news of my diagnosis well at home, apparently he’s not doing as well at school.

His teacher emailed last night about problems staying focused and being disruptive in class. He told his teacher that he “wasn’t allowed” to talk about my cancer. He was also in trouble for saying “Paul Revere rode like hell to warn the Colonial militia about the British.” (OK, he shouldn’t have said “hell.” I get it. Also, thanks, History Channel documentary for putting that phrase in his mind.)

I went out for drinks with colleague friends last night, so I didn’t get home until nearly kiddo bedtime. My mom took Lauren upstairs for a bath, and I sat down with Ethan. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Do you know why your teacher would have emailed me today?”

He started to rub his eyes. He admitted that he has too much on his mind: my diagnosis trigger thoughts of my health, my mom’s health, and the deaths of his dad and grandpa. He also feels completely abandoned by Mike’s parents, who remain MIA (despite having multiple ways to contact us).

He’s afraid to say anything to the kids at school because he thinks a few of them will make fun of them or laugh about my hair loss. “Ethan, most of the moms know,” I told him. “And if anyone makes fun of you because I have cancer, I’ll call their parents directly and take care of it. Or I can take the kid out on the playground and kick their ass. Your choice.” (Wisely, he opted for me not to kick any kids’ asses.) I also assured him that I am fine, and I’m going to remain fine.

I assured him my mom is doing well. Her health issues seem to have disappeared, and other than arthritic pain from passing weather fronts, she’s doing really well.

We talked about Mike, and he cried because he can’t remember many of the good things about his dad anymore. I told some stories, and we laughed.

Overall, I think we’ve lost traction in the grieving process. We’re back to Ethan blaming himself for his dad’s drinking (“I should have stopped him. I should have told you.”), and Ethan worrying about what happens to him and Lauren if something happens to my mom or me.

The solution is just time. Time and talking. Time and talking and the generous understanding of those around him.

Good God, this kid’s been through a lot in his 9 years.


Unrelatedly, genetic testing is back and… of all the genes tested, all are negative for mutations. My genes are normal! This means genetics did not cause the cancer, and I don’t have an increase (compared to the average population) of getting breast cancer again or any of the other cancers examined in the test (brain, thyroid, ovarian). What it doesn’t answer, though, is why I did get cancer. It could be environmental. It could be a mutation on some other gene yet to be discovered. It could be that science just doesn’t have the technology to “find” the mutation yet in the genes examined.

I really don’t need the answer for “why me,” and I’m taking this as very good news. The information will help me and the medical team finalize surgery plans. It also means the kids do not need genetic screening for these cancers. However, Lauren will need to talk to her doctors when she’s in her early 30s about starting mammograms sooner than traditionally recommended.

Needles in my boob, the meaning of positive, and so much damn cancer information

Didn’t mean to leave anyone hanging, but I’ve spent a ton of time with the kids and B during the holiday break. From Christmas (and so much playing!) to a New Years (kid-free!) getaway with B, it was a great week. In between the fun, I was researching and reading and plotting all the potential scenarios, but as much as possible, I tried to focus on the kids and B. But now I’ve reached the point at which I need to write this out, to get these thoughts and feelings out of my head. As I’ve said before, this blog helps me process, and I’m going to need to process a LOT during this process…

So the update, starting with the Christmas Eve biopsy.


I don’t think I ever want to spend Christmas Eve morning at the breast imaging center again.

The results of my mammogram and ultrasound were suspicious, so the biopsy was the next course of action. Again, not feeling like I had much to fear, I was in good spirits – looking forward to the next day with the family and the start of a week with B.

I changed into a surgical gown and was escorted back to the ultrasound room. The radiologist who would perform the procedure came in. He was really nice, to the point, and very socially awkward (which I appreciate and kind of adore in people). He explained the procedure and looked at the images from my last visit. In a few minutes, I was warned that the local anesthesia would sting a bit. It did, but it wasn’t bad.

A few minutes later, the first incision was made. I watched on the ultrasound as the first mass was found. I could see the radiologist’s needle approaching the mass.

“One. Two. Three,” he counted. Click! I watched as the needle pierced the mass and retracted back. This went on for six or seven times. Count to three. Click sound. Needle in and out. No pain, but I could feel blood dripping down my side.

Then he made a second incision for the next mass. Same procedure, except he forgot to count. “I’m so sorry,” he said with a little under-the-breath laugh. “I forgot to count. Are you okay?”

I assured him I was fine. Since I was watching the whole thing on the monitor, I could see the needle approach and anticipated the click and needle in-out thing. Besides, I couldn’t feel anything with the local anesthesia.

The nurses laughed as I explained that I figured it out and didn’t need the countdown. “Everyone is different,” Nurse Gina said. “Some people ask a ton of questions. Some want to bury their face in a pillow and not look at all.”

The whole thing lasted about an hour. During that time, the nurses, radiologist and I talked about our Christmas plans, recipes for cooking a tenderloin (two of us were making one for dinner the next day), and recipes for our themed holiday drinks. (We would have Cranberry Margarita Martinis, while Nurse Gina was preparing Frozen Grasshoppers.)

When it was over, Nurse Gina applied pressure to the two incisions for about 10 minutes. That was probably the most painful part. It was SERIOUS pressure. Then steri-strips and a gauze/adhesive dressing. The incisions were so small, Nurse Gina had a hard time finding them.

I had to change the dressing a few times that night because I kept bleeding through. It turned a beautiful purple color. (I joked that it matched the dress I was going to wear on New Years.) And there was a lump where the biopsies originated. But there was very little pain.

The worse thing was the flu that I was coming down with and would battle for the next week and a half.

Then waiting… Having B and my mom around, and the kids of course, kept my mind occupied (somewhat), but there was still the WAITING…

Positive Doesn’t Mean “Good”

Friday at 9 a.m., B and my mom were getting ready to leave, after they both spent two nights with the kids and me. My cell phone rang.

“I just got off the phone with the pathologist,” said the socially-awkward radiologist. “It’s positive for breast cancer. Both areas. Wait, sorry. I should have started with asking how you’re feeling since the biopsy…”

I laughed. I’m good, I assured him. Surprised at the results, but the biopsy area was fine.

“I really suspected it was cancer when I saw it,” he said, “but I had to wait for the results to be sure.”

He told me a nurse would call soon to schedule a meeting with a surgeon.

Tears. I walked out of my office and into the kitchen. I looked at my mom and said, “It’s positive.”

She put her arms around me and buried her head in my neck.

“Positive is good, right?” said Ethan, who I didn’t even realize was in the room. Until this point, I hadn’t said anything to the kids.

“Usually, yes,” I said. “But not usually when it comes to medical stuff.”

I explained that I had a test that showed a lump in my breast and had another test to determine what it was. It was the second test that was positive for something and that meant I’d have to see more doctors to find the best way to fix it. That satisfied him and so far, I haven’t said anything else to him.

(I’ve thought a lot about this. Until I have a plan and more information on my particular kind of cancer, talking about it to a kid who’s been through so much would do more harm than good. I really want to be able to say “here’s what’s up, here’s how we fix it, and everything will be okay.” I just don’t have enough information yet to do that.)

About that time, the surgical nurse called. I had already reviewed the surgeon profiles at the cancer center so I knew which surgeon I wanted to see. I had three options: two general surgeons and one breast-only surgeon. I’m going with the breast-only doc. Of course, she’s out of the country until January 12, so things are kind of on hold until then. She’ll be the one to refer me to the oncologist and radiation doc, and order additional testing necessary before surgery.

Information Overload

In the waiting time, I had an “education session” with Nurse Gina. I brought my mom for two reasons: 1) the cancer people kept asking if I had a support system (since I’d been alone during the mammogram and biopsy) and I wasn’t sure they believed that I did have support, and 2) I thought it would help my mom. (It did make her feel more comfortable.)

Most of what Nurse Gina covered, I knew from my hours of research, but there were two points that caused me to cry.

She explained that since I was pre-menopausal and under 50, I would most likely have to endure chemotherapy. As she went over the specifics and side effects of chemo, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. Losing my hair, eyelashes, eyebrows – “fuckity fuck fuck,” was the only thing I could think as tears streamed down my face. As she continued with the services offered in the cancer center – head shaving, wig fitting, scarf tying, eyebrow makeup classes – more tears. Tears because, quite frankly, I can hide all of this from people, but not if I lose hair. Then I’ll get sympathy looks, which I hate. I also teared because it’s so ridiculously vain – and that pissed me off that I could be so damned vain about HAIR… And it cycled back through again.

The second thing that caused me to cry was when she asked if I told the kids yet. I said no, and explained why and what they did know. She gave me information on how to tell kids, which is somewhat helpful, but given our situation, it’s so much more complicated. I just tear whenever someone talks about or I think about how my kids have been affected (and in some cases, messed up) by so many things out of their control. And at such young ages. This is just one more thing for them to worry about.

Nurse Gina was fantastic during the education session. She made my mom feel completely at ease. She sent me home with an inch-thick book and a two-inch binder, plus a ton of pamphlets and brochures on information and resources locally and nationally. I like having as much info as possible, so I’ve already devoured everything except the book (which seems to be a lot of info I’ve found in my research). And last night, I started researching wigs and scarf tying and the god-awful bras and inserts made for women who’ve gone through breast surgeries.

That’s where things stand right now. Stay tuned… there are still a half-dozen topics I want to write about, and will write about, in the coming days/weeks.


I was watching the season finale of Sons of Anarchy last week, when I found a lump in my breast. A big one (the lump, not my breast). Also, don’t judge about why I was doing a self exam while watching TV. (Very disappointed at the CGI at the end of that finale. Lame.)

I called my doctor the next day, and went in for a check up. She did an exam and said she was pretty confident it was no big deal. But advised that I get a mammogram anyway. Besides, I’m 41, and I should establish a boob-baseline.

Yesterday was the mammogram and ultrasound (ultrasound was necessary since I could feel the lump). I was joking with the techs, and watching on the screens. They took a lot of images, but since this was my first mammogram, I wasn’t sure what was normal. Honestly, I wasn’t worried. I’m healthy. There’s absolutely no cancer of any sort in my family. What could go wrong?

I knew it wasn’t good when the radiologist came in to give the results and asked if I wanted to have someone with me during the consult.

Um, I came alone. It’s just a test, right? Surely, she was going to tell me it was a cyst. Maybe it needed drained, but no biggie, right?

So, there are two rather large masses in my right breast. They’re solid, so they’re not cysts and unlikely to be menstrual-cycle related. They’re also not perfectly round. Good news: they’re not spider-webby, just a little pointy on each side. The radiologist was rating the area as a BIRAD 5. The scale only goes to 6, with 6 being a confirmed malignancy. The radiologist said I could wait until after the holiday to schedule a biopsy since there was unlikely going to be a change. Then she left the room so I could wipe the ultrasound goop from my chest.

I sat stunned as the tech ushered me back to the locker room to change into my clothes before meeting with the surgical nurse, who could answer questions.

I just stared at the tan and blue dressing room curtain. What the fuck does this mean?

Waiting for the nurse in her office, I did a quick google search for things to ask when your mammogram comes back suspicious. I never had a reason to pay attention to news articles or information about breast health. All I could think was “shit, I should have paid attention more to women’s health topics.” I felt completely uninformed.

The nurse was great. Straight forward, which I like and appreciate. I listened to information about the procedure, and then asked her my “what if” questions: what if it’s more than just a mass? What if it’s cancer? What are the options if it’s not cancer? What are the options if it is?

She answered everything, straight to the point, no-nonsense. Then sent me to scheduling.

I go in for a biopsy on Christmas eve at 8:45.

I spent last night researching. I’m a researcher, have to know my options. My head is like a flowchart: if this, then that. And I needed to fill in as many of those holes as possible. I like options, even if I never need them.

B called last night. He knew I was going in for tests. I broke down into tears when I was talking to him. It was the first time I cried since getting the news. I cried even more when I tried to go to sleep last night. It isn’t the procedure or even what it might show. It’s how this will impact the kids.

What if…

Then ((tears)).

Dream and “more” – connection or coincidence?

It’s been 26 months since he died, and until last night, I hadn’t had a dream about Mike or even one in which he appeared.

In last night’s dream, Mike and I were dating, I think. At least, we didn’t seem to know each other super well. We definitely weren’t married in this dream. He was my “plus one” to a fundraiser (dinner and silent auction) at some fancy-pants hotel. He was kind of being a jerk – quiet/not talkative, not responsive to stories or jokes or questions, basically ignoring me. At one point (when he excused himself to the men’s room), I hid in another room, contemplating leaving the fundraiser alone. Ultimately, I decided to allow myself to be “found” and give him another chance to salvage the date.

Then I woke up.

I’m not a huge believer in dream analysis, but this dream comes as B and I have talked about “more” in our relationship (“more” of each other, “more” than just weekends, “more” of pretty much everything having to do with one another).

SIDE NOTE: Adult relationships are complicated – kids, jobs, responsibilities. I didn’t have these considerations last time I dated, almost 20 years ago. (Twenty years ago, it was: want to spend more time together? Move in with one another! Life was so much less complex…)

Not sure how or if the dream is connected to what’s happening with B, but I’ve been distracted all day…

Two-for-one: Dishes make me cry and In-laws still suck

Two unrelated stories today:


It’s been a heck of a week. I’m on spring break, which has an entirely different meaning as a professor than it did when I was a college student. I’ve spent the week grading, drinking large amounts of caffeine, and cleaning my closet. And when faced with no real schedule but still stuff to accomplish, I procrastinate by going shopping. (This has NOT helped the closet-cleaning situation since I’m filling it back up as quickly as I’m eliminating the junk.)

Yesterday I went to campus for a few hours. Afterward I took the long way home. I saw a housewares store that I hadn’t been in for a long time, and I jumped across three lanes to pull into the lot. (I’m a sucker for off-the-wall kitchen gadgets, so I love this particular store.)

I walked through the aisles, just browsing. Killing time. No real purpose.

I came to an end cap near the dishes and stopped.

I stood there, staring at the display, for five minutes. Not moving. Barely breathing. Eyes starting to water. Forcing people to find a way around me because I couldn’t move.

I walked closer to the display, touching the dishes.

When the first tear fell, I knew I needed to walk away. But I kept looking back.

The dishes were the same as the ones Mike and I registered for when we got married. We used those dishes for 10 years. I sold them in a yard sale last spring.

Selling them didn’t phase me but for some reason, seeing the same pattern, the same brand, (even though the colors are different now), took me back to a happier time. And the pit in my stomach grew as my eyes continued to water.

I loved those dishes. I fought to have those dishes as our “everyday” pattern. So many meals served. So many family celebrations. So many happy times (and some sad ones).

I left the store, without buying anything, and finished the drive home. I just can’t stop thinking about those dishes. Funny what brings you back, and how emotions can be tied to almost anything.


My ex-sister-in-law (T) messaged me this week with a story.

T divorced Mike’s brother about four years ago. She’s now happily married, and she and her husband own a well-known bar in Mike’s hometown.

So, T and her husband were walking hand-in-hand through the parking lot of a local “taste of” festival. Their bar was one of the participants, and they were going to make sure things were going well.

It was in the parking lot where she was confronted by a crazy woman, who appeared out of nowhere.

She started wagging her finger in T’s face. “I hope you’re happy! You girls ruined my life!”

T wished the woman well, and kept walking. Her husband was confused (and probably a little scared) by this crazy person confronting his wife.

The crazy woman? Mike’s mom.

Thinking about that confrontation – and T’s perfectly calm reaction (I probably wouldn’t have been so nice) – has made me smile all week.

Still blaming T and I for ruining her life. Yep, it’s our faults that your sons turned out like they did. And, just like always, it’s about her. I REALLY don’t miss the in-laws…